By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK (Reuters) - The agent who brokered a surrogacy deal for an Australian couple at the center of a scandal that left a Thai mother caring for a baby with Down syndrome said on Wednesday the couple had offered to take the boy home with them along with his twin sister.
The case has raised questions about Thailand's lax laws on surrogacy and caused an outcry in Australia, sparking calls for an overhaul of laws to cut the number of couples traveling abroad in search of surrogates.
The agent told Reuters the biological parents made the offer to take the boy some weeks after the birth, despite claims by surrogate mother Pattaramon Janbua that the couple had abandoned the baby after they found out he had Down syndrome.
"In the end, they told me they would take both babies. They didn't want to be a problem for the surrogate mother any more but she (Pattaramon) did not take that chance," said the agent, who only wanted to be identified by her nickname, Joy.
The boy, Gammy, now seven months old, is being treated for a lung infection in a hospital east of Bangkok and also has heart problems.
Australian couple David and Wendy Farnell have taken his healthy twin sister back to Australia. They have not spoken publicly about the case and reports of their actions have been muddled and contradictory.
Media reports that David Farnell was a sex offender have fueled the outrage over the case. According to Australian District Court documents obtained by Reuters, he was jailed in 1997 for a minimum of three years for sex offences involving three girls aged under 13.
Reuters was unable to contact Farnell for comment despite repeated attempts to reach him by telephone.
CHANGE OF HEART
Joy said Pattaramon had agreed to keep Gammy after discovering he had Down syndrome, fearing she would be asked to abort him, which she would have refused to do as a Buddhist.
But the couple then had a change of heart.
"They said they wanted to take both babies home. When the surrogate mum heard that, she called to say sorry. She said she wouldn't take payment but would keep Gammy," Joy said, adding the agency had assured Pattaramon she would not have to abort the child.
Joy, who gave up working for the agency several months ago, said no formal contract was ever signed by Pattaramon, the agency and the couple.
Pattaramon said on Sunday that the doctors, the agency and the baby's parents had known Gammy was disabled when she was four months pregnant but only told her in the seventh month.
She has said she agreed to a fee of 350,000 baht ($10,900) to carry the twins for the couple. She said the agent agreed to pay her another 150,000 baht to keep Gammy.
Pattaramon said the agent who brokered the arrangement with the Australian couple reneged on paying her in full.
Joy denied this. "There is some misunderstanding about the money issue. She was not happy that we were paying her in installments," she said.
A Thai official said on Tuesday that a Bangkok clinic may have violated Thailand's regulations on surrogacy and that the head of the clinic could face up to a year in jail and a 20,000 baht ($620) fine.
He declined to identify the clinic, which authorities inspected on Tuesday. They are to check all clinics offering surrogacy services around the country to see if they are respecting regulations.
There are no laws directly relating to surrogacy in Thailand. It is largely tolerated, although commercial surrogacy is against the Medical Council of Thailand's code of conduct.
Surrogacy is allowed if blood relatives of the couple are the surrogates, but exceptions are permitted if such a surrogate is unavailable. The clinic involved in the current controversy was licensed to offer surrogate births under those regulations.
($1 = 32.1500 Thai Baht)
(Additional reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat in Bangkok and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by Alan Raybould)